My understanding of grammar can be defined at best as poor. It is not because I don’t care, nor because I am stupid. I just missed the basics, and without them the rest becomes challenging. When I went through school, it was during a period when English class was focused on self-expression, doing so correctly was considered secondary. I was luckily near the trailing end of this generation. When the first set of self-expressing illiterates hit post-secondary education or the “real world”, everyone suddenly realized things desperately needed to change.
As an aside, I completely hate the expression, “the real world” when it is used synonymously with “life after school”. Let’s face it, we are all part of the real world, and being an adult and independent does not make it more real. With age, we may have more responsibility, but even with my mortgage, my kids, my job, and all the rest, I have never felt as much stress as I did trying to make ends meet while in University, or having 3 hour exams in which I had to regurgitate everything I had learned over the previous 4 months. My son who is in 4 year old kindergarten is trying desperately to learn how to fit into a social circle. I know this causes him more stress than I feel when I have an impending deadline at work. My dear daughter spent a solid 30 minutes trying to put her socks on by herself this morning, and she stayed focused until she succeeded and followed up with the pants, she was too exhausted at that point to refuse my help any longer, and I managed the rest. I quite honestly think she put as much concentration into that action as I do at work on a daily basis. Aside closed.
I have been working for the last year on trying to learn English for the specific purpose of being able to communicate effectively at work. I was the only anglophone in my team for nearly three years, when the other one came, I could no longer hide the fact that I didn’t know what I was talking about and decided to do something about it. I have bought two technical writing books; I am on page 86 of one (not bad) and page viii of the other (it was a little harder to get into). I have bought two English grammar books, one is English for Dummies for the French, but I found the French sections too difficult to read, so I signed up for French classes.
After all of this work, and studying, and googling, I finally finished my very first end to end technical document, a total of 83 pages. The last time I wrote that much was for my thesis. When I read my thesis now, I cry, partly because, with just a few years of experience (okay now more than 10), I realise what a tool I was back then, and partly because I no longer understand the equations that were essentially my life for two years. I polished my document and sent it off to a technical writer for review. This particular technical writer is two parts genius, one part total loon, which is why he and I work so well together. His initial feedback was, let’s just say, less than positive. I was a little discouraged, but still convinced I could complete this document to high standards. Before going further, I must also highlight that I stole a large portion of the content from functional experts or other technical writers. (Just in case – I double checked all copyright laws before doing so and was completely in line with company policy). When I got his detailed feedback, I was surprised by the amount of red, but almost none of it was on the portions I had written. I could not have been more proud. I did however learn that I am a very poor editor.
I have become all the more sensitive about my language skills, both French and English, because I have two little apes in the house, and let’s face it, children absorb everything and mirror us in ways we would never quite expect.
When Squishy woke up in the morning or after nap, the first words we would say to her were “did you have a nice sleep”, and she started saying it herself when she woke up, “nice sleep”. Last week, in a situation I can’t quite remember now, I suddenly realized she says “nice sleep” when she wants to get out of bed. For her “nice sleep” essentially means “get up”. We have since stopped asking her if she had a nice sleep just as she wakes up.
I grew up in a family whose most common form of communication was sarcasm -and I love them all for it- but I spent years thinking “original” meant something that is like everything else. When you hear the sentence “well that’s original” twice a day before you grasp the concept of sarcasm, it greatly affects how you understand words.
For the time being, I remain one of the little apes primary role models. It would be nice if I could teach them to how not to make fools of themselves with others. It would also be nice if I could keep up with their homework in a few years. Most importantly it would be nice if they wouldn’t spend their time correcting me once their skills have gone beyond mine. It is already humiliating enough that my French husband corrects my English on a regular basis, I don’t need the offspring to do it too.
For some of you, and you know who you are, I have also recently learned that I was over-corrected or more accurately mis-corrected as a child. It is completely correct (and totally plausible for me) to ask “Would you like to come to the movies with Matt Damon and ME?” I am now ridiculed by genius-loon for my overuse of the word (letter?) I.